Dear Mom—about your 50 year nursing career & Medicaid… Woman’s post PLOWS the GOP

So many of us have thoughts and opinions about Obamacare vs Trumpcare, Medicaid vs no Medicaid, rising premiums, subsidies, etc, and the list goes on and on. l stumbled across this letter from a woman named Betsy, written to her mother with dementia, and creatively cc’d to the GOP. It’s compelling and thought provoking and I wanted to share it here.

Source: Dear Mom—about your 50 year nursing career & Medicaid… Woman’s post PLOWS the GOP

The Involuntary Adventurer

For what I hope is short lived I have found myself with a bit more free time on my hands this summer, but while I do have that time my husband and I have decided we’re going to try very hard to do some of those things we’ve been saying we want to do. Yesterday we made good on our promise to each other, and set out on our first adventure to downtown Minneapolis and the Mill City Museum and Mill Ruins Park. The Mill City Museum is located on the Mississippi River on the east side of downtown, and tells the story of the history of when this beautiful city of lakes (and a very big river) was the capital of flour milling. From the late 1800’s into the mid 1900’s in the birthplace of General Mills and Pillsbury, the mills on the banks of the Mississippi produced the largest percentage of the worlds flour, and by 1915-16 was producing 20 million dry barrels annually. (Total geek that I am, today we measure flour production in cwts, which is a hundred weight, or 100 lb, and a barrel had about 196 lb of flour. That’s about 3920 million cwts annually. Minnesota’s production in the first quarter of 2017 was 6.86 million cwts, putting us 4th in the nation.)

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Mpls milling district from the Mississippi River, approx 1907. The Washburn A Mill is about in the center. The tall spire with the round clock looks like it’s part of it, but it’s actually behind it. Note the original Stone Arch Bridge on the right, and the railroad trestles in front of the mills. Some trestle remains exist in the ruins today. Photo from MN Historical Society

The city was knicknamed “The Mill City” and even had a professional basketball team for a time, the Minneapolis Millers for those of you old enough to remember them. (As a kid, I’d heard of the Millers, but always thought “what an odd name for a team, I wonder why they called them that?” I never thought to ask my parents. Now of course, 30 seconds on the internet and there’s your answer!) One of the things makes the museum and the park so interesting is that the old mill is the site of 2 fires, and the park has a portion of the mill ruins that were excavated.

The first Washburn A Mill, built in 1874, “was leveled by a flour dust explosion that claimed 18 lives. That explosion and the resulting fire destroyed much of the riverfront business area, cutting Minneapolis’ milling capacity in half.

The A Mill was rebuilt by 1880, with state-of-the-art machinery that permitted safer operations while producing higher quality flour. At the time it was the largest and most technologically advanced mill in the world, featuring new automatic steel rollers instead of traditional millstones.  During its heyday, it was said that the mill ground enough flour to make 12 million loaves of bread a day“. Mill City Museum History

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1991 Washburn A Mill Fire, Courtesy of MN Historical Society

As production shifted to other parts of the country, mills began to close and in 1965 all of the remaining mills in downtown Minneapolis were as well. The building sat empty, and in February 1991, fire broke out in the abandoned building nearly destroying it a second time. Since then efforts have been made to safeguard what remains, and excavate some of the ruins of the old original mill.

 

We had wanted to see it for quite some time and because much of it is outside, we waited until summer to go. In retrospect I have to say that was good only in terms of ease of walking around, however while the museum is good and has a ton of information, the ruins were rather disappointing. Take a look at the photos below; you’ll see what I mean.

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©2017 Beth Younker

 

The photo on the left is one I found from another blogger on a general Google search (I’ve provided a link to her blog so she gets credit!) taken 10/26/2010, and below is one I took 6/20/2017. You can see how much overgrowth of weeds has been allowed to happen at the site. It’s been virtually taken over by the weeds, trees, and foliage, to the point that there was so much of the ruins that I didn’t even realize existed until I found the other photograph online! For example there is some sort of large round object about halfway up and toward the right side in the left photo, and if I blow up mine and know where to look I can just barely find it.The three windows are nearly obscured, and just off the end of the walkway is a large slab of something. In her photo it’s clearly a piece of structure but in mine it’s almost not noticed. So our visit was interesting, but rather underwhelming, primarily because you just couldn’t see much at all. In addition, I’ve been trying to find information online that has diagrams showing me what it was I was seeing. Don’t get me wrong, there is some information on the small information stations located along the parkway in the area. Screen Shot 2017-06-21 at 5.30.03 PMBut the information isn’t as clear or informative as it could be. One example is where a sign stated that “the tailraces are visible” and it had a picture of tailraces that may have looked a little like this to the right:

 

Now honestly, does anyone know what a tailrace is? I sure didn’t! And I sure couldn’t figure it out just by looking at the picture. Was it the part sticking out? Was it the part going in? Was it the path over the whole thing? Well, here’s your vocabulary word for today. The tailrace is the place where the water comes out from the flume from the mill,  those little small canal-like areas. Here is how those same tailraces appeared yesterday noted by the yellow arrow, from a slightly different perspective.

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©2017 Mike Younker

I also mentioned earlier in the blog by that very first photo, that there were remnants of the train trestles still present. You can see them here. They are the bits of rusted iron that are sticking up just to the left of the walking path on the right side of the photo.
Trying to find online maps and diagrams has been fruitless, which is frustrating. I’m not sure why that wouldn’t be available, as it seems it should be relatively easy information to get and provide. Just figuring out what the railroad trestles were was almost impossible until I stumbled on something in someone else’s blog.

I’m not sure if funding for the park has been cut, or if it’s deemed to dangerous to try to get in and weed the ruins or what the issue is. I can say that it was a less than fulfilling experience, and I hope that the Minneapolis Park Board will take a hard look at this. I know in recent years their stance has been to let a lot of areas go back to natural, such as the area around Lake Nokomis, which may work for some areas. Near the ruins there was even a sign indicating that there is work to bring back some of the natural prairie grasses to the hillside. In this case, if in fact they are allowing the mill ruins to revert to their natural state, this certainly means a loss of our rich milling heritage as the ruins are swallowed up by nature and will soon be gone for good.

How Low Can Bad Videos Go?

I’d like to say it’s been a really bizarre week, but honestly, who am I kidding? It’s been a bizarre 5 months since our new President was sworn in. No one met with the Russians, well maybe they did, they can’t remember, oh you meant THOSE meetings?…the Russians didn’t hack the election, well maybe some Russian patriots did, who knows?…alternative facts…Spicey’s in, Spicey’s out, Spicey’s in the bushes, Spicey’s rolling through Manhattan – oh wait, that Melissa McCarthy doing a skit for SNL. Sorry…Screen Shot 2017-06-02 at 7.00.09 PM

And then there was covfefe. Yeah, I don’t even know what else to say about that one. Neither, apparently did Merriam-Webster, those wise and wonderful dictionary folks, who tweeted this out in response that morning. (If you aren’t following M-W on Twitter, now is a great time to start. Their social media manager, Lauren Naturale is hilarious. For that matter, why aren’t you following me, @MrsMike921 on Twitter as well? Just sayin’.)

So moving on.
The thing that really has made an impact on me this week, however, was the story about Kathy Griffin and the poor decision she made when she created a short video depicting a beheaded Trump with a crawl at the bottom of the screen “he had blood coming from his nose, his eyes, his whatever” (or close to that). Since it was posted it was supposed to have been taken down off YouTube, she issued an apology, has been fired from her New Years’ Eve gig with Anderson Cooper at CNN, lost multiple stand up gigs, lost endorsement deals, been harrassed by the Trump family, recieved death threats, and had a visit from the Secret Service. Then today there was a video from a press conference where she stated that the Trump family is ruining her, and they’ve “broken her, and she doesn’t believe she’ll have a career after this”, crying while making her statement.

First a couple of things to level set. I’m no fan of Donald Trump, but I’m also not overly fond of Kathy Griffin either and find her rather annoying and a bit of a bully. Having said that, I’m sure this is a difficult situation for her, and I don’t doubt her sincerity and that she is sorry for having made the video. No one, I repeat, no one, should ever get a death threat, it’s terrifying. As to the rest of it…I’m having trouble being more sympathetic, and here is why.

In her original statement, Griffin said “I crossed the line..I move the line and then I cross it. That’s what I do.” Guess what? If your job description includes “be provocative, push the envelope, push people’s buttons” that sort of thing, then it’s incumbent on you to also be responsible enough to know how far is too far and when to stop. If you don’t know, then for the love of God, get a trusted circle of advisors and bounce ideas off of them when you’re really pushing the edge of the envelope. We’ve all seen stories in the media about threats to past presidents that bought someone a visit from the guys in dark suits with no sense of humor, who talk into lapel pins. Some threats were pretty real, others were vague and non-descript. Internet chatter is monitored to pick up anything that might be a possible risk, guys flying in homemade gyrocopters that land too close to the White House suddenly find themselves with an arrest record. You’d have to have lived under a rock or in Siberia for the last 30 years to not know about these things. Griffin’s statement of “I crossed the line” is just too pat, and quite frankly, is a cop out.  If she gave it any thought at all, perhaps she figured as a celebrity she was exempt from consequences? I personally believe that Griffin simply didn’t think. At. All. Unfortunately for her she’s learning the hard way this is one time when her celebrity status doesn’t matter worth a hill of beans. Do I seriously think she was making a threat against the President? No, of course not, and the Secret Service probably didn’t either, but it’s not their job to guess. It’s their job to investigate, verify, and determine based on facts obtained from interviews.

If I do something in my job that my manager or my company disapproves of, there are consequences. Every year I am expected to review a corporate code of conduct, and sign off on that document indicating that I’ve read it, I understand it and will abide by it. If I don’t live up to it, I am subject to a number of potential forms of discipline  up to and including termination of employment. I can’t misrepresent my company, I can’t accept monetary gifts, I can’t share insider information, etc. I would expect there are similar rules in place for self-employed celebrities when they sign employment contracts with networks to do shows, such as  Griffin did with CNN for the New Years Eve show. While I’ve never seen that type of contract, some quick searching on Google did produce readily available information on morals clauses in contracts for the entertainment industry.  If her contracts had them, then her failure to understand terms and conditions lies squarely on her own shoulders.

I’d be a whole lot more impressed with her if she said “the mistake was mine, I didn’t stop to think. I was stupid and careless and can see how this could have been percieved as a  threat to the president. The Trump family has every right to be angry with me and I’m going to take some time away from my career to reconsider some things. I may or may not be back.” She is both pushing this onto someone else as well as whining about the Trump family bullying her. The former demonstrates the lack of insight on her part, which is unfortunate and the latter, well, that’s kind of “pot, meet kettle”. Bullying is wrong, no two ways about that, and both have done more than their share. I just find it a bit hypocritical that she’s now the one complaining about it.

I’m not saying she doesn’t have a right to push boundaries in her career as a comedianne, or even to cross lines, so before folks jump on their bandwagon I want to make sure I’m clear about that. I just don’t think she should have crossed THIS one.

Whoops, They Did It Again

Like many, lately I find myself waxing nostalgic for “the good old days”. With all of the chaos and uncertainly that is surrounding us with the economy, healthcare and politics, is it little wonder we want to slip back in time a bit, and we “Try to remember the kind of September, When life was slow and oh, so mellow.” (Many of you are far too young to remember that song from Tom Jones!) We’re so tired of the lackadaisical disregard that’s out in the world, and it’s really become so commonplace for us that we almost don’t see it for what it really is anymore: Customer Service EPIC FAIL.

I’ve said this before, but unless you are going to make sure your department does it’s job well (I’m talking to you, Best Buy) you really need to rename it Customer Dis-Service, so that in fairness to your customers, they truly know who they are working with. My husband and I were lucky enough to buy a new washer and dryer recently. Our old set was mismatched, here when we bought our house, and about 15 years old, so when the dryer went for the third time, that was all the reason I needed. I ordered what we wanted from Best Buy online and set up delivery. 16864721353_dc47ce9c27_zBefore it was all said and done, the tally was 2 trips from the installers, 1 from the plumber, 6 calls to different people in customer service, at least 2 hours combined hold and talk times with customer service, and over 2 weeks without a washer and dryer. Plus a whole lot of misinformation and frustration, all of which was completely avoidable.

You’d think I learned my lesson after that debacle, but since I’m a slow learner, I didn’t. I went back to Best Buy, this time to the store, as I was trying to buy some Bluetooth speakers for my mom’s computer for Mother’s Day. I really wanted to hear one particular brand, but couldn’t get the store display to work. I asked one of the staff about it and here was the response: “I’m sorry, that unit isn’t working, and hasn’t for a few weeks.” That was it. I said, “Can you try to fix it? Get a different one? I’d like to hear it, and I won’t buy something I can’t hear” and the response was “no, we can’t”, and he just stands there smiling and looking dumb.  Seriously?  That’s the best you can do?  So I left and went next door to Target and they had a couple of young kids working in stereo. (You know the kind, the type that have “rule bender” written all over them, and I immediately know this will work to my advantage!) I said to them, “OK, here’s the deal. Best Buy was less than helpful, and I’m really hoping you’ll be able to help me. I need to hear this thing, because I want it for my mom and she has a little trouble hearing so I want to make sure it isn’t too tinny and has good base sounds. Is there any way you can open the package for me so I can try connecting it to my phone, since you don’t have it as a display model?” and without even hesitating, they said “sure, we’ll give it a try”. Bless their hearts, they did, and I’m so grateful for it, because I really didn’t like the speaker at all! But I was able to find something I liked later with my husband’s input, and mom was thrilled with what we bought for her.

I guess I just don’t get it, why is customer service such a thing of the past, such an exception instead of a rule? Part of the problem where Best Buy is concerned, is that for those of us in the Twin Cities, they’re kind of the only game in town for some things. We no longer have Circuit City, and we don’t have stores like Frye’s or other electronics competitors, which is really unfortunate. I think it’s allowed Best Buy a degree of complacency and they’ve become really second rate. I do shop my dollars elsewhere when I can but sometimes they really are it.

On the other hand, our local hardware store (yep, I’ll name it, Pellici Ace Hardware, and they have several locations) consistently falls all over themselves being helpful, courteous, kind and downright awesome. I might have to pay a little more for things there, but it’s worth it. If I need something they don’t have, they will go into their online catalog with me and find it, but honestly that’s only happened one time. Generally speaking, if they don’t have it, you probably don’t need it. Everyone should run a business like Pellici.

Even Best Buy.

It’s My Life (Isn’t It?)

A few weeks ago I reposted an article from a friend of mine, a powerfully written and moving story about her quest to help a friend in his final hours, and the frustrations and challenges she encountered trying to find an emergency notary. If you haven’t read it, here is the link to How the Healthcare System Brought This Expert to Her Knees. Kristen’s story resonated with me, and I was reminded of it recently when I learned of a friend’s father who was being put in hospice. In turn, that got me to thinking about Health Care Directives and Health Care Power of Attorney, and I wondered how many of you have really thought about them, or talked with either aging parents, or depending on your own age or health, your children, about them?

To help set the stage, here are a couple of definitions. Living in Minnesota, I went to the MN Dept of Health website and found their definition of a Health Care Directive. They say it “is a written document that informs other of your wishes about your health care. It allows you to name a person (also called an “agent”) to decide for you if you are unable to make your wishes known.  You must be at least 18 years old to make a health care directive.” Aging Care defines a Health Care Power of Attorney as someone who “gives a designated person the authority to make health care decisions on behalf of the person”.   So basically the person who is the power of attorney makes the decisions, but they also need the Health Care Directive, which you might also hear referred to as a Living Will, to know what you do or don’t want done. Think of those as the set of instructions for your power of attorney. Most states should have links for Health Care Directives available on their Department of Health sites, and there are a number of others available as well. In Canada, according to the Health Law Institute at Dalhousie University “Canadian courts have indicated that advance directives must be respected”. There is a link to Provincial and Territory specific information at the end of this blog. I also have several at the end of this blog for you including one specific to the state of Minnesota. The one for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization has links for all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico if you scroll down the page a bit. There are a number of other really good resources on this site as well.

Back to the story of my friend, and when I talked with him, he told me they were thinking about putting his father into hospice. I asked what had happened, because the last I had heard his 85-year old father was in the hospital after a fall where he had bumped his head, and was still confused, but that was the last I had heard. He said that his father had a heart attack two weeks prior and was in a coma. He also said the doctors really didn’t hold out much hope and felt hospice was the best option, but that meant removing his feeding tube. His mother was struggling with that because she would see little things and interpret that as signs of meaningful movement, and think that he was maybe improving. His sister, who lives out of state, was on her way home but she was the back up power of attorney for health care if his mother couldn’t make the decisions.

I was immediately transported back 17 years to when my own father was in the hospital following a stroke, when he was only 59. He and my mother had made me their power of attorney for healthcare, and in retrospect while it was the wisest thing they could have done, there were things we should have done differently too. First, I’m a nurse by background and my mom could not have made any decisions even if her life depended on it. She was in shock…there she was, 59 years old, and in the blink of an eye, her life was changed. Don’t misunderstand me, as a daughter I was also in shock, but having had the discussion with him about what he wanted done, I had to think back to that conversation and at least try to remember what he said he wanted to help guide us. Neither of my sisters knew, they just trusted me to make the right choice, as did my mother. I did the best I knew how, between what I thought my dad would want and with my medical knowledge. A couple of years later I actually found the written document again and read it, and was relieved to find the choices we’d made really were in line with what he’d wanted, however the lesson I can share here is that giving the documents to only the power of attorney isn’t enough. Make sure your primary care doctor has them as well, and maybe even give a copy to someone that you consider to be a reliable friend. The reason I say this, is because when there is an emergency I can promise you that if you’re a family member, all higher order thinking leaves your brain and you’re pretty much left with eat (sometimes), sleep (sometimes, and often only when you fall over exhausted), and numb. The last thing on your mind is “now where did I leave the Health Care Directive?”, so having copies with people that can be a little less emotional is extremely helpful for the person who is your power of attorney. They will still need to make any decisions, but if someone else can at least bring them the document, it might help.

Having conversations about end of life care can be very uncomfortable for some people, and starting the conversation can be awkward. However it’s much easier to do so in a controlled, non-stressful environment rather than trying to make last minute decisions without ever having had those discussions at all, when sitting at the side of a bed in intensive care, looking at the face of the person you love and knowing that you’ll never hear their voice again.

Some things to keep in mind that can be helpful are:

  1. These are YOUR wishes. Not your spouse’s, your parents, your children’s, your sibling’s. Yours. You get to choose.
  2. You don’t have to wait until you’re sick, or have a terminal illness. You also don’t have to be old. Any of us can get sick, or have an accident at any time.
  3. Put it in writing. Don’t rely on just telling someone because a) you risk their memory not being good and b) what if someone doesn’t believe them? Remember Terry Schiavo? She told her husband (but not her parents) what she wanted and didn’t put it in writing. He fought with her parents in court for years to be allowed to remove her feeding tube and let her to die, because they didn’t believe that is what she really wanted.
  4. Keep a copy of your wishes on file with your primary care doctor.
  5. Bring a copy with you to the hospital if you’re having a major surgical procedure.
  6. Make sure your spouse knows where the written copy is.
  7. Make sure you have someone besides your spouse as your backup designated Healthcare Power of Attorney. That way if your spouse is too distraught to make decisions, or is also incapacitated, such as if you’re both in an accident, there is another person available to make decisions. You want this person to be someone that will support your decisions, and to understand enough about you and your wishes to be able have appropriate conversations with your doctors if needed.
  8. Where is this person located? Can they be easily reached? With technology today even folks who are on the other side of the planet can be connected through Face Time or Skype for a conference, but if they are on an expedition to Antarctica, that might be a different story. And will THEY keep their head in an emergency?

Don’t wait.

Resources:

MN Dept of Health

Kare11 TV recently published a story on end of life planning. Included in that were a number of other stories and links to not only Health Care Directives, but also things like thinking about our digital footprints and what remains after our deaths, planning discussions with families and thinking about hospice care.

National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization

SAMPLE Health Care Directive form

Health Law Institute at Dalhousie University (scroll down that page for Canadian Provincial and Territory specific links)

Just Because You Can…

Ninety nine red balloonsкрасные-воздушные-шарики-в-форме-сердечек-летят-к-солнцу
Floating in the summer sky
Panic bells, its red alert
There ‘s something here from somewhere else
The war machine springs to life
Opens up one eager eye
And focusing it on the sky
The ninety nine red balloons go by

Second verse of “99 Red Balloons” , lyrics by Kevin McAlea

I was watching the Minnesota Vikings losing… again… last fall when a commercial came on for TCF bank. The music accompanying the commercial was quite catchy, and somewhat familiar, and I stopped and listened and realized it was “99 Red Balloons”, a very upbeat, peppy pop tune from the early 1980’s recorded by Nena. (Many know it as “99 Luftballoons”, the German version of the song.) But here’s the thing…just because a tune is all peppy and catchy, doesn’t mean it’s best used for a commercial. I mean, should you use a song about war, the nuclear holocaust and the end of life as we know it to sell your banking products? Really? I know you can… but should you?

My husband has heard me utter that phrase so many times over the years, he’s probably sick of it. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” He typically hears it when we see something that appears particularly visually egregious to us when we are out and about, however over the past year and a half since I started writing this blog, it’s started to mean something more. As social media becomes more prevalent and, along with that, invasive in our lives, it becomes necessary to recognize the criticality of our responsibility in that domain. No longer are we merely writing words, but we’re writing words with the power to hurt as well as heal, to destroy as well as develop. It’s become so easy to say whatever we want to, cloaked in the veil of protection afforded by not being face to face with people, and looking them in the eye. The upside of being face to face with someone and speaking to them of course, is that you hear nuance and tone, you see body language and you’re in the moment. You can respond immediately, defend and refute. With posts like Twitter, all of that is lost. Is it sincere or sarcasm, are they kidding around or cutting you down? In the space of time it takes you to figure it out, “pop goes the weasel” and the whole world has now seen the post. A reputation is ruined, someone is shamed, a war has begun.

Years ago I remember hearing “be really careful about what you put on social media with your activities, it could cost you a job.” Yet too often it seems that the long term impact of what is put on social media isn’t considered. It’s all about firing the first shot, not ensuring you tooks steps to make sure the last one is done. There was a story recently about a prank played on a young boy via social media, telling him that a girl he considered his girlfriend had committed suicide, so he killed himself. He was 11.  So many lives wrecked because of poor decisions.

Consider too, how quickly stories go viral. In the past several weeks we had Pepsi pull their commercial with Kendall Jenner due to racial insensitivity, United Airlines debacle dragging a customer off an airplane and Sean Spicer and his terribly inappropriate statements about Hitler and the Holocaust on Passover.  Within hours it seems the whole world was talking about each of these incidents in Twitter. I loved George Takei’s take on the whole thing, when he tweeted this out:

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I thought it was funny, but also a good reminder that it’s starting to feel like we’re playing “Whack-A-Mole” with all of the ridiculous “are you kidding me? [face palm]” events we read about on the internet and it’s getting harder and harder to keep it all straight!

So I’ll use these examples for myself as lessons, golden nuggets if you will, reminders of how fleeting moments are, that cyberspace is forever. The best way to ensure your sex tape is removed from the internet is to never make one in the first place, be kind and gentle with others, stand up for people when they can’t do it themselves, and ask yourself “just because I can, should I?”

You Don’t Know It’s There Until It’s Not

Eight little words that are pearls, words of wisdom from my mother regarding salt in cooking but applicable to so many things in life. As I was learning to cook when I was quite young, I had asked about salt in particular one day and I can still hear her voice so clearly saying to me, “you don’t know it’s there until it’s not”. That resonated with me then, and stayed with me all these years (and don’t ask me how many years that is, I shan’t tell you!)

The inverse is also true about encounters and experiences that we have, we often don’t realize something was missing until we’ve seen it, heard it or felt it. Where we live in the Twin Cities we got a new chain of Hy-Vee grocery stores last year that brought some much needed competition to our cities. From the incredible variety of types of produce, fresh artisan breads, cheeses, an incredible specialty bakery, to fresh, onsite fast food and a restaurant, shopping there is nothing less than an event. Going there one needs plenty of time, because you’ll want to browse and browse and browse…it keeps going on and on and it’s just plain fun.

I’m also fascinated by the attitudes there. First, the store motto is “there’s a smile in every aisle”, and while it’s a little corny, it’s also true. Every time I’ve been there, I’ve been greeted warmly and multiple times in the same visit, people always asking me if there is anything I need help finding or have questions about. The second thing was the one that really stood out for me, which was it almost felt like the team members were trained in the art of people pleasing, or anticipating needs. One day I was in line to buy groceries and noticed a bag that was designed to stand up in the trunk of the car. I asked the checker if it was designed to hold 2 grocery bags side by side when open. He didn’t know, nor did the young lady bagging my groceries (yes, they bag your groceries there!!) I went ahead and bought it anyway, and turned back to the register and ran my card through to pay for my groceries. Suddenly the young lady bagging them said “yep! It does!” I turned and she had opened up the bag and filled my paper sacks then put them both in the new trunk bag to make sure they easily fit in there, so I would know right then and there. She didn’t need to do that, but it was really nice that she did, and it really made me wonder, “do they teach ‘Never miss an opportunity to delight a customer and try to anticipate needs’ as part of new employee orientation? “ I’ve had other unexpected experiences at the store as well. When I haven’t been able to find something I’m looking for, they don’t tell me where to find it; they bring me to it (“Here, let me show you where that is.”)  If they don’t know where it is, the staff will look it up on the computer and then come back to where you are to update you (“If you wait here, I’ll go and look that up for you and I’ll be right back.”). I’ve never had such a complete and satisfying experience, and didn’t realize it until I actually experienced it. I figured that wasn’t happening by accident so a few days ago when I was there I stopped a manager and asked about it. He confirmed it for me and said that yes, they train all employees that way, to basically “fall all over themselves being helpful” (my words, not his, but the intent is the same) and that they have secret shoppers who actually come in watching for it. I told him it’s why I kept coming back, that I loved being treated like that and really appreciated the service. He thanked me, and his smile really said it all. 

I’ve decided I’m old enough and have paid my dues; I deserve to be treated well. I want to shop at places that treat me as if I’m special, even if I have to pay a little more. (I honestly don’t think I do pay more here, I’m just saying I’m willing to.) I’ll go to a nicer restaurant, go to better retail shops if I’m treated with more kindness, given a bit more help, a smile, or going the extra mile. What I won’t do, is shop at places that treat me like I don’t exist, which is what happened at Sur le table in Edina a few years back. I had shopped at one of their other stores in California in the past and really liked them, and was happy when a new store opened in Minnesota. I went there on a Saturday morning shortly after the store opened. It was quiet; I was maybe the third customer there. If you aren’t from here, you need this for your backstory: Edina is a ritzy, wealthy suburb and the local rumor has it that the letters stand for “Every Day I Need Attention”. While that isn’t really true, there certainly is plenty of attitude there to go around. So I walked in in jeans, a flannel shirt and baseball cap – and after 20 min not one sales person had greeted me, made eye contact with me or approached me in any way. So I walked out, walked a half block down the street to another kitchen store called Cooks of Crocus Hill (where they are MUCH nicer), was immediately greeted, spent a lot of my hard earned money and told them how much nicer they were. The saleswoman replies and said they heard that a lot. As I left it was all I could do not to walk back to Sur le table and walk in like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman “you know, I was in here a little bit ago and you wouldn’t help me, big mistake. HUGE.” But I figured I’d be the grown up and go home.

That’s the funny thing about customer service. We all recognize really lousy service when we experience it, because it unfortunately slaps us in the head and it makes us want to tell everyone about it. So-so customer or adequate customer service, that’s not so simple. Perhaps we’ve become complacent, or have adjusted, even lowered some standards a bit, but whatever the reason is we are no longer bothered by middle of the road because we didn’t realize it wasn’t there, until it something truly stellar comes along. 

Off to Cayo Hueso

 

Sunsets with entertainment, live music, literary history, pirates, roosters, pie, drag queens, Cuba – what’s the common thread running through all of these things? If you don’t know then you’ve never had the fun of visiting the southernmost point in the United States, located in Key West, Florida. IMG_3429 (1)Settled in the early 1800’s and valued at one time for it’s position on the shipping lane known as the Straights of Florida and as a stronghold during the Civil War, Key West, originally known as Cayo Hueso, is rich in history and culture and is incredibly popular as a tourist destination, particularly in the winter. The island is probably the only place in the US that has somewhat lightheartedly declared itself an independent nation and that has it’s own passport, calling itself the “Conch Republic” (the story is too long for this post, but here is a link). It’s only 90 miles from Cuba, the many refugee boat trips over the years described lightheartedly by Jimmy Buffet in his lyrics to “Everybody’s Got a Cousin in Miami”

It was ninety miles to freedom but they took the risk

Though the ocean was all motion and the wind was brisk

The deadly gunboats never saw them in the pale moonlight

They were off to Cayo Hueso by the dawns early light

The gringo in the garden called the customs man

They answered all his questions, were allowed to land

The ladies shared a hairbrush and their husbands had a coke

Then they were taken up to Krome to meet with their kin folk

In spite of the fact that my fellow Jimmy Buffet friends and I consider Key West our mental mecca, I’ve actually only visited once about 20 years ago on a girls’ trip before I was married, when 4 of us planned a trip inadvertently during Fantasy Fest. Think of this as Key West’s version of Mardi Gras, where virtually anything goes – and I do mean anything! How does one do this inadvertently? Well, you begin by purchasing airline tickets first, THEN reserving your hotel room…or trying to. This was back in the day when I barely had e-mail, and we had no idea Fantasy Fest was planned until we tried to get a hotel room and all we could get was the last suite in Key West (at three times the price!) Anyway, I always wanted to go back and just never did, until last week. Yep, it took me 17 years, but I finally talked my husband into going. And while we had a great time, it wasn’t the same Key West that I remembered.

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The Mallory Square mermaid

We did some of the  ‘must do’ touristy things like  watching the sunset at Mallory Square, seeing Ernest Hemingway’s home, and going to have your photo taken at the southernmost point marker. I wasn’t sure what to expect at Mallory Square, but it sure was fun people watching, and I think the entertainers were as much fun as the tourists! There was a crazy Frenchman with his flying stunt cats, and watching his odd little show as he hollered at the cats’ butts and the tourists with an accent as think as peanut butter was simultaneously creepy and hilarious. Jugglers with fire sticks, accordion players, a guitar playing mermaid, acrobats and all kinds of other stuff was happening all along the waterfront. Just keep walking back and forth. Mike and I just kept looking at each other feeling a little like we’d fallen through the looking glass.  I really can’t make this crap up, Google it. Especially Dominique and his flying cats.

One of the things we did, that almost didn’t turn out well, was an evening sunset sailing cruise. (Note to self, next time check the forecast first.) I love sailing, and have been on 4 Windjammer sailing cruises in the Caribbean (think of 3 and 4 masted pirate ships, and you have the right idea!)

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Me, being Jolly Rover crew

We decided to go for a sail on the Jolly Rover, a 2 masted boat, and with a crew of 3. The guy who sold us our tickets used to sail with Windjammer, so it was fun comparing notes with him. The first part of the cruise was fine, and as we set sail they asked if anyone wanted to help raise the sails. Of course my hand was the first (and only!) one up in the air. I helped haul up the sheets which you see in the picture on the left (pull the rigging on the sails for you landlubbers) which I’ve done on other sailing trips, and think is fun, and off we went – sort of. Unfortunately there wasn’t much wind so while the sails filled, we moved awfully slowly. That’s ok though, I mean come on, I’m on the ocean, it’s warm, I’m on a boat, who cares?

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Mike and I at the helm of the Jolly Rover

We took some photos at the helm (beware of sailing hair!), then our captain checked the radar and noticed that there was a squall line coming in and there were wind warnings issued. Interestingly it still wasn’t particularly windy, but time to get the sails down and get back to harbor, fast. Out of nowhere, it seemed, the clouds came in, and we barely made it just outside the harbor when the winds picked up, and essentially blew us the last couple hundred yards back into the slip. We hustled off the boat and into shelter. Got a little rain for maybe 30 min, and then it was over as quick as it started. But it sure was a bummer to ruin the sail and the sunset!

As a writer, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to go over to Hemingway House and see how dear old Ernie lived on Key West for 8 years while he did some of his best writing. There are still  descendants of his infamous 6-toed cats and the penny his 2nd wife embedded in the concrete by the swimming pool (look up the story about how she got his last cent).

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Hemingway’s writing room

Just for the record, I loved his writing room that overlooked the pool, and I want a sanctuary just like it. Imagine a room to dream, loose yourself in like that, be at your most creative. Sigh. I might have to redo my craft room. (I think I just sensed my husband cringing.)

The thing that surprised us the most was probably the age of the people we saw. During the daytime there were people of all ages but the highest percentage were over 65, which neither of us expected. Because the bars are open until 4 am, we figure most of the younger ‘kids’ were sleeping it off during the daytime, then as sunset drew closer most of the over 65 crowd disappeared and the younger people showed up, filling the bars on Duvall, all of which have their doors open to the street, and many also have windows that are open as well, or have musicians outside on a patio, so no matter where you are you can hear music. Walking back to our hotel after dark was an interesting experience, too. We had to walk past a couple of clubs with drag queens, who would station themselves outside to try to get people to come in and watch the show. So as we would approach, we would hear “Hi there honey, how are you?” or “Hi, having fun tonight?” They were perfectly nice and polite, and the easiest thing to do was to greet them back nicely, and just say “yes”. If they asked if we wanted to come in and see the show, I just smiled and gently said “no thanks” and kept going. It’s really not fair, that they look better in a dress and makeup than I do though.

It was fantastic to get away though, from 35 degrees in Minnesota, to 80 degrees in Key West, even if the ocean water was colder than I would like. I suppose if I were laying on the beach and getting all toasty, the chilly water would feel great, but I’m not much of a sun goddess, so dipping my toes in the water it felt pretty chilly to me, but heck, it was still the ocean, which I love and miss!! I can’t wait to go back and hope I don’t wait so long for the next trip to see it.

Oh yeah, did I mention the Key Lime Pie?

Dream a Little Dream

Slowly they enter, in pairs, by fours, sometimes one, then a group to big to count, young and old. They find their seats; the anticipation palpable, if the low hum of constant voices is anything to go by. Scattered around the theater, I can spot some children in costume – a Belle here, a Gaston there. The scent of popcorn fills the air and soon all the seats are filled. The pre-movie scenes are showing on the screen and the lights dim slightly accompanied by a noticeable decrease in the sounds of talking. Then suddenly, the screen goes dark for a moment, and a voice comes over the loudspeaker.32164704480_194c0e2348_b

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to our theater. We hope you will enjoy tonight’s showing of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in 3D. As you exit the theater, please drop your glasses in the boxes at the doors. Now before we begin our showing, we have a special surprise. As some of you may have heard, cast members have been traveling around the country making surprise drop in appearances at different theaters, and we are thrilled that Josh Gad and Dan Stevens are here tonight with us! Please give them a warm welcome!”

And the place goes nuts. (Who am I kidding, me too. Just a little.)  They come in and walk right toward us, and stop to shake our hands and say hello  (because we chose to sit in the row where everyone walks past between tiers) and my husband takes a picture of me standing between them before they continue on toward the front of the theater and…Hey, it’s my fantasy, I get to direct it any way I damn well please.

Seriously though, we really are going to see ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tomorrow night, and is it just a little silly I’m this excited? I mean, I never even saw the Disney original until last week for Pete’s sake. Yeah, I know, that’s pitiful, right? But since I don’t have kids, it sort of slipped off my radar and I just never watched it. Oh I knew the basic story and all, and most of the songs, but just never saw the whole movie. Now, however, with the new movie coming up, I decided I really needed to see it so I knew what the original was. Gawd, I’m such a softie too, sniffle, sniffle, I admit I shed a tear. I’ll probably bawl watching live action. And let’s face it, I’ll watch almost anything with Dan Stevens. (By the way, if you haven’t watched Legion on FX, you’re missing an insane, unreal, amazing, fantastic, incredible show.)  And what percent of us watched Emma Watson grow up as Hermione Granger? Come on, admit it, you’re dying to see her in a more grown up role, aren’t you. No Harry, Ron or Snape, just her.

So some of the cast members really have been doing drop in surprise visits this week at theaters around the country. Of course, with the thousands of theaters that the movie opened at this week, statistically speaking I’m smart enough and realistic enough to know it’s highly unlikely they’ll be coming to our theater. But you know, can you imagine if they did? Holy smokes, wouldn’t that be crazy! I’d say my life was pretty well complete, having seen Cary Elwes live before a showing of ‘The Princess Bride’ on the big screen, and then some of the cast members before seeing ‘Beauty and the Beast’. (Just remember, it’s easier to be happy when you set the bar lower.)

I’ll keep you posted on the outcome, and let you know if it really happens. After all, a girl can dream.

Saturday night, the update, as promised. It breaks my heart to tell you this ;), alas, no real life sightings of Gaston, Le Fou or the Beast, but the movie was wonderful. I thought it was a great experience to see it in 3D, and everything about it was well done. There are a number of laugh out loud events, the songs are well performed by the actors, and it’s visually rich. I can’t wait until it’s out on Blu-ray so we can have a copy at home.

Spring’s a Coming

Wind chills of 30 below zero, snow drifts higher than the top of the car in the winter, followed by springs so short they barely exist and then summer with it’s heat, humidity and blood sucking mosquitos – yep, you need to be especially brave and hardy to live in Minnesota all your life. At least that’s what I keep telling myself. The reality is much less flattering, but there’s no need to go there just yet. Instead, today I’m feeling a little like a certain well-known storyteller that you may have listened to on public radio, who tells tales of his fictional hometown.

We’re starting to awaken from what feels like a strange winter in my hometown of Minneapolis. This year we’ve seen elements of the worst of what winter has to offer us, none of which lasted for more than a day or two, and all of which were spread out just enough to ensure very limited time outside because it was either too cold, too windy, too wet, too icy, too something to enjoy being outside in winter. Please don’t misunderstand, I much prefer sun, sand and 80 degrees, but realistically if we live here, we do have to peacefully co-exist with winter and spend some time outdoors in it, so we learn how to dress for the weather. Boots to -20 or so, heavily insulated parkas, down mittens, fleece hats and scarves, and we follow it up with a hot beverage or two. (Some of us might even have a hot adult beverage or two, but that’s a story for a different day.) That all assumes, however, that whatever layer you’ve donned is enough to protect you from the onslaught of the elements of the moment. Reallistically, there is nothing that protects you well when wind chills are in the dangerous range and then just when that stops, it starts to rain. As the day ends the temperature drops and the rain turns to ice and now everything has a lovely coating of thin ice for a few days. After that melts, the temperature drops again to well below zero. And around and around we went. All flippin winter.

But the other day it was different as Mother Nature messed with us in her own slightly twisted way. Winds shifted from North to South and became almost gently and balmy. The sun made an appearance and was high enough in the sky that it could produce warmth when it touched your skin, which we Minnesotans were brave enough to show since the ambient air temperature was in the 50s. The 50s!  Folks in California pull out parkas and Ugg boots at 61 degrees, or so I’m told, but here we put on T-shirts and shorts and even a few sandals, although since many of us don’t do maintenance pedicures over the winter, our toes don’t have cute polish on and heaven forbid we show our bare toes without adornment. But I digress.

My mornings are special for me, my husband is still asleep, my furry four-legged children haven’t started chattering for the day and the world hasn’t woken up and begun to annoy me. I drink coffee, read the news and try to not get depressed at the general state of things out there. But this one day, as I sat here I suddenly became aware of something different around me. A sound I hadn’t heard for so long that I nearly didn’t recorgnize it, and I had to consciously pause for a moment and think about it. It was the birds chirping outside! For the first time in months, the birds were back and doing their spring thing. Suddenly, all the crap in politics, health care reform, wiretapping, none of it mattered. Spring was on it’s way to Minnesota.

When that happens, there is a noticeable difference in attitudes among residents here. A new spring in our steps is felt, smiles appear on our faces, we start looking strangers in the eyes again and saying hello after a long winter of being bundled up and looking down at the ground. That’s not rudeness by the way, it’s just our way of reducing the number of passages for cold air to enter under our coats – chin down to block the neck opening in case you either didn’t wear a scarf, or in case your scarf doesn’t quite cut the mustard. But hearing the birds as they are singing their little hearts out? Ah, who cares about a little cool air, we can deal with that, spring is on the way! IMG_1404 - Version 3There are chickadees, goldfinches,  and robins, oh my! (OK, we have the chickadees and goldfinches all year long, but they don’t sing a whole lot in winter, and the goldfinches turn a kind of weird shade of chartreuse. When they start looking bright yellow again, that’s another harbinger of spring.)

Of course, just as we allowed our collective emotions to get excited and think winter might be over with, just that fast she turned on us and walloped us with a reminder that it ain’t over til it’s over and “here’s 4 more inches of snow and minus 3 degrees (Farenheit, for those of you in Celcius world) for a temperature” as a reminder to not got too big for our collective britches. Oh well, I hadn’t worn my new boots yet anyway.